Careful…You May Actually Be Advising!

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Despite all the hype, and even some anecdotal pushback, the fact is if you are an accounting professional you may already be advising. Whether you’re actually charging for it is another story.

What’s more, transactional accounting is becoming a commodity with services like Bench, Pilot, Botkeeper and the rise scores of outsourcing companies flooding the market with often low-cost, highly automated bookkeeping services.  As such, small CPA and bookkeeping firms are under pressure to bring more to the table than just organizing and crunching numbers if they are to hang on to their existing clients and attract new ones.

This is not a “compliance is dead” diatribe, far from it. But the tone of the day is that a growing number of accountants are under pressure to do more as they’re increasingly burnt out on relying on tax work. But, the advisory paradox…well, let’s get into it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard over the past few years, “I really want to offer advisory services to my clients, but I’m just not sure how to get started.”  The thing is, every single one of these practitioners is likely already providing advisory to their clients in some capacity; they just aren’t calling it “advisory” and, let’s be honest, probably not charging for it either.

Not convinced? You actually provide advisory services…

  • Every time you interpret a line on a financial report or offer advice about which general ledger account to use
  • When you off-handedly tell your client how much they could save by switching service providers or brands.
  • When your client asks you to do a mid-month cash reconciliation to see if they can afford a purchase

It’s fascinating (and baffling) to me that so many talented, experienced professionals don’t recognize that the advice they give to their clients is by definition “advisory.” And if you don’t realize it, chances are, the client doesn’t either.

What is Advisory Anyway?

During the COVID pandemic (remember that?), many of the stories from clients are surrounded by uncertainty. No matter your role — the accountant or bookkeeper — your clients have already bonded with you, naturally making you the financial first responders. This existing relationship makes you primed for offering advice.

Believe it or not, most accountants have already assumed the role as the advisor, whether they are calling it by that name or not. What’s more is that most clients are looking for guidance to best navigate change and uncertainty. Who better to do that than you? Advisory services (or, again, whatever you want to call it), at their core, are about empowering your clients to make better decisions and having those kinds of conversations.

Change is hard, period. We get that. Business owners often feel as if they have hit-the-wall and have nowhere to turn. They need information, shared experience, and most importantly – a trusted sounding board to work through their fear and indecision.

Reviewing financials in an economic downturn and an unprecedented crisis is incredibly scary because many of your clients do not have a good understanding of the relationship between their financial reports, such as balance sheets and profit and loss. Fear then leads to indecision, inaction or arbitrary action.

Sharing our understanding and expertise of financial and economic principles with our clients can help provide clarity about their position within the economic environment. This enables their entrepreneurial spirit to blast off, leading the way to innovation and the ability and willingness to pivot.

So How Can You Help?

Your accounting brain is adeptly skilled to help your clients find clarity and direction during times of uncertainty. The tools in your analytical arsenal include budgets and cash flow forecasts to help them survive and even flourish.

Your familiarity and understanding of financial products and the impact they have on the going-concern of a business is incredibly valuable to your clients. Share this knowledge with them and let them know you are ready and eager to help answer their questions.

Leverage your relationships and free resources from your partners. You can find a wealth of articles, calculators, legislative interpretations, and other guidance by doing a quick Google search or reaching out to your professional organizations.

The Accountant Perspective

Being a guardian to your clients, you have to remember that you care most about helping them create not only the business, but the lives they really want. Just as your doctor is the go-to care provider to stay healthy, you are the financial primary care providers to your clients.  Most of the accountants I’ve met and remain in contact with are always working to perfect their craft, just as primary care physicians continue to educate themselves through training, peer groups and practice.

So, no matter what you call it, you are likely doing more for your clients than what the traditional picture of an accountant does. Embrace it, own it, and know your value (i.e. figure out how to charge for it).

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